Pop Rocks: American Idol -- What The Hell Is Wrong With You People?

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The ninth season of America's national karaoke showcase -- also known as American Idol -- premiered last Tuesday. The show that has contributed such legends as Jordin Sparks and Taylor Hicks to the world of music continues to chug along in spite of the absence of original judge Paula Abdul and the looming departure of resident killjoy Simon Cowell. Ratings for the two-hour season opener were down slightly from last season, meaning a mere 29.8 million viewers tuned in.

Zuh? How is that even possible? Look, I'm probably the last person who should lecture anybody on their taste in television. I mean, I've been known to watch Forever Knight marathons on Chill, and my most prized DVR recording is that episode of Cheaters where Joey Greco gets stabbed, but AI (as it's referred to by those "hip" to industry lingo) is empirically shit, which makes its continued popularity truly baffling.

It'd be one thing is these numbers were attributable to the train-wreck nature of each season's first few shows, where we all get to point and laugh at the Divine lookalike performing "Genie in a Bottle," or the kid from Denver nobody could believe was male, or Constantine Maroulis. These are the same installments you talk about in incredulous tones with your co-workers/friends/houseplants the next day, expressing shock that anyone could possibly be so oblivious as to their own lack of musical talent while ignoring the irony inherent in the fact that these people are encouraged to make transitory asses of themselves mostly because you're watching them in the first place.

Besides, if the law of diminishing returns has any meaning outside of microeconomics or beer bonging, shouldn't we already have determined who the best singer in the country is by now? Larger and larger crowds keep showing up to Idol auditions, yet the last, what...four(?) winners sank into obscurity almost before Ryan Seacrest finished snorting his post-season-finale rails. I'm not going to argue that Carrie Underwood is the best singer Idol ever produced (I'm more of a Kelly Clarkson guy anyway), but after eight years of this process wouldn't logic dictate that we've probably already seen the best (and second best, and seriously mediocre) America has to offer?

Still, almost 30 million people opted for the television version of "Thank you sir, may I have another?" and endured two hours of off-key caterwauling, dry British sarcasm, and Spice Girl Victoria Beckham. The fun continued last night, as it will -- twice a week -- for the next four months because Idol, against all reason, remains a television juggernaut. A slight dip in recent seasons' ratings did prompt judge Randy Jackson to promise "interesting wrinkles" for the coming year, but unless these involve onstage antipersonnel mines or the resurrection of Johnny, Dee Dee, and Joey for "Ramones Night," I'll be watching Better Off Ted and betting the under on sales figures for the next Kris Allen CD. Vonder Haar out.

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